NUMBERS GAME, PART SEVEN: CAUSALITY
Mason exchanged a quick glance with Para before looking back at Alison. “What do you mean this isn’t the Earth where you grew up?”
“I’ll explain later,” Alison said dismissively. “As it is, we need to focus on catching Four I’s, aka Phillip Denomolos!”
“Oh! You figured out the name of the Denominator?” Para said in surprise.
Alison grinned. “Yup! Been sifting through data for over a day, as I said. I knew what he looked like, and when he was going on the tour of the Tower. Matter of being a genius with computers and cross referencing.”
Mason frowned. “But where could you have pulled in the raw data? I don’t keep records of every Earth activity in my TARDIS. These data banks aren’t like your internet! For that matter, the records I have stored are apparently not even for this Earth?”
“Truuue,” Alison admitted hesitantly. “But I discovered you can interface this ship temporarily with the internet out there.”
“Even so,” Mason asserted, “that would be the internet of the current time. 2005. Before tours were regulated, before this Phillip signed up.”
Alison coughed. “Potentially.”
Mason’s look became a glare. “You haven’t stayed in 2005.”
“You’ve been joyriding my TARDIS through time and space?!” Mason couldn’t even think of the number of regulations that this sort of an act would have violated. And he had let Alison on board, so this meant he was an accessory! He leaned in against the centre console, moving his face closer to hers. “When you picked me and Para up immediately after you left us – it was so that I had no time to PREVENT your actions, wasn’t it!”
“No!” Alison fired back. Her mouth twitched. “Though I grant that was a side benefit.”
The audacity of the woman! “Exactly where did you take–”
“Look, no TIME for this,” Alison interjected. “We’re currently headed back to the present, and by the time we get there, we HAVE to have a plan for stopping the alternator device that got planted in that Tower! I kind of used up any extra lead time with my research.”
Mason walked over to spin a dial on the console. “Time is a bad excuse. I’ve now adjusted our destination to be a few months previous to your setting.”
Alison frowned slightly. “Okay, knowing about that dial a day ago would have been useful information. Still, the alternator – it’s a serious problem! We can discuss my so-called joyriding later!”
“Here’s the thing about that technology,” Para chimed in, seemingly seizing the new topic in order to prevent an argument. “We don’t know what it does. Other than apparently build up a charge, for something like a decade.”
“Oh, an alternator alters the perceptions of everyone in it’s vicinity,” Alison offered. “That information WAS in this TARDIS database. In this case, I hypothesize that it will make people believe they’ve always seen four I’s on Big Ben’s clock, rather than an IV. It’s rather ingenious. Since the trigger ends up being activated retroactively – generally once enough people have been targeted – the newly affected population can then simultaneously convince anyone who was NOT altered over the last several years that reality’s been like this all along. Even historical records and web pages can be changed by unwitting people. Because as we all know, history is written by the victors.”
Despite his mounting annoyance with Alison, Mason was impressed by her deductive reasoning. In fact, he knew something about alternators too, and when coupled with a temporal displacer, they could help to alter local perceptions – so that no one would notice the arrival of the time traveller themselves. Though his being impressed quickly morphed back into irritation over the fact that she was now showing off all this otherworldly knowledge instead of him. “What, did you spend ALL your time alone doing research? Merely to justify your taking my ship wherever you wanted?” he demanded.
Alison’s jaw clenched. “No, not to justify! To resist the urges I had to throw myself into the Thames and be done with it!” she shouted, rounding on him. “Okay? You happy now? Because here I am, hungry, nearly out of meds for my depression, and it’s ONLY my interest in this ship and the technology element of this case that’s kept me going. To try and save a planet where my death won’t even register, because you know what? I don’t exist here!” Her eyes looked a bit like they wanted to tear up, but even so, she held Mason’s gaze.
He flinched away first. “That… doesn’t make me happy,” was the only thing he could think of to say, staring at the wall. He idly reached up to touch his face, where Alison had slapped him during their first trip out of The Hub. That physical strike had been a lot easier to ignore than some of her more recent verbal blows. Yet it was difficult to make a connection with her. She was so unpredictable.
A challenge which he sort of appreciated. Perhaps Alison was right – he should have run off with her all those years ago.
“So how do we stop the alternator device?” Para said quietly, even as she moved to touch Alison’s arm. The brunette flinched back at the touch, but then resumed her earlier pose, taking in a shallow breath as she fired a weak smile back at Para.
“I… I don’t know,” Alison admitted. “That’s why I had to get the both of you. I’m in over my head – I don’t know why it would cause problems for all Roman Numerals either.” She ran her fingers back through her hair. “If it helps, I’ve learned that Four I’s already used his device once before. On the clock tower in the movie ‘Back to the Future’. Yet the only thing to happen there was updates to all beliefs and online files reflecting the lack of an IV in their production. Unless that six hour movie already HAD four I’s on it’s clock, but then why would that girl Alice have brought it to our attention way back on The Hub??”
Mason pushed his increasing thoughts about Alison aside – particularly the fetching way her hair fringe now covered her forehead – to focus in on the more immediate problem. “Okay. The solution to stopping the problem might be in why the device malfunctions… either way, with all this time hopping, we’d better focus on that. Because if we’re not careful, we could end up causing the very problem we are trying to prevent, and be responsible for the current crisis ourselves!” He crossed his arms. “So ladies, throw out any ideas you have, nothing too ridiculous.”
“I thought maybe it was the scope,” Alison admitted, relief in her voice now that Mason had accepted the conversational shift. “Because so many people know about Big Ben, no matter what Earth you’re on. But I found nothing to back up that theory, or know how to deal with it.“
“Maybe it’s a problem with proximity to the Great Clock’s inner workings?” Para offered. “Plus there’s actually four clocks on the Elizabeth Tower, not one! Maybe the Denominator’s device wasn’t properly calibrated.”
Alison shook her head. “Seems like pretty basic stuff to take into account,” she objected.
“Hold on. Calibration. Would this Phillip have calibrated the alternator himself?” Mason mused. “From what we’ve seen so far, he doesn’t understand how dangerous this technology might be. He probably inherited it. Or had it presented to him by someone.”
“By Lissa,” Para asserted. “He’s said as much.” She frowned. “Alison, were you able to track HER whereabouts at all?”
“I didn’t get that far,” Alison said, shaking her head. “Kinda had my hands full already! But from what I read, Four I’s DOES have something of a technological background. He works as a computer tech. What if he tried to recalibrate the alternator on his own? To affect MORE numerals than just those in this one area? In fact – oh!” Her eyes got a bit wider, and she looked back and forth, seeking affirmation.
Para looked hesitant, but Mason nodded slowly, seeing what Alison meant. “This Phillip makes adjustments, failing to anticipate what would happen when he tries to influence all clocks in the country, not just the ones in the Elizabeth Tower.”
Alison shook her head. “No, no, you missed it! Not all clocks. A specific clock. Remember him ranting about ‘the latest Doctor Who opening’? Remember the connection to our date in 2005? Moreover, why do you think this guy’s first trial run was on a clock in a FICTIONAL film? He’s out to rewrite a television franchise. One which, incidentally, I have discovered to be something of a worldwide phenomenon.”
“But if he wants to change the show, why not just change the show?” Para objected, her bunny ears twitching in confusion. “Why change this actual iconic clock itself and wreck all of math in the process??”
“Perhaps because of how the Great Clock has been featured in the show,” Mason suggested, stroking his beard. “Or maybe he’s a bit mentally unbalanced. But even so, this is still mere supposition! We need to PROVE this link. If we’re wrong, our future actions could STILL be what causes the whole situation.”
“But the only way to be SURE is…” Alison stopped, looking thoughtful. Her fingers tightened a little where she was gripping the console. “Ooh. I have a new thought. But you’re not going to like it.”
She told them. And she was right – Mason didn’t like it. But he wasn’t sure whether to be impressed at her ingenuity, or horrified by the possible repercussions. Regardless, he decided that he had been right about one thing all along. Alison was definitely difficult to predict.
Phillip Denomolos turned off his music player and pulled out his headphones as the bus approached his stop. Normally music helped to centre his mind, but apparently the technical problems he had been trying to resolve today at work had pushed him beyond any place where music could help. Yet his invention was so close to being completed! Why this month, of all months, had his muse fled from him?
The twenty six year old got off the bus, pushing his way through the people waiting there with a sigh. He supposed he knew the answer to that unspoken question – with all the recent network problems, his mind was overtaxed. If only someone else could deal with fixing the damn computers! These days, when he went to bed, he was no longer in the right mindset (whatever that might have been) for her to seek him out.
Phillip smiled, now that he was thinking about her. Lissa Jous. His muse. His dream girl. The one who had so often visited him while he slept, speaking in his mind, whispering the hints that he needed. The hints that would allow him to finish assembling the device. The device that would allow him to set right what had once gone so very wrong.
His smile became a grimace at the reminder of the problem, and Phillip glanced down at his watch. He nodded. At least there, the Roman Numerals were done right. He shoved his hands back into his pockets, hurrying for his flat. Perhaps if he had a chance to meditate this evening, it would help? Or perhaps if he watched some reruns of his favourite television show? After all, his device was supposed to time travel too… maybe the connection would help! Certainly time travel was the only way to truly fix things. To show everyone the error of their ways!!
Becoming lost in his thoughts, Phillip was two steps away from the old style taxicab before he even noticed it parked in front of his building. By that point, the door was opening, with a woman stepping out to regard him. He froze. Her hair was pink, and done up in intricate ovals – or perhaps it was a wig? Either way, her blue dress sported a very similar wave-like design. It cut off at her knees, helping to show off her long legs and a pair of fashionable boots. “Four– Phillip,” she stated. “I have come here on a very important mission.”
“What?” he retorted, startled at the use of his name, pulling his gaze back up to her face. “Who are you?”
“My name,” the woman said hesitantly, “is Lissa Jous.”
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